Lost and Found, Part 1

I have really enjoyed preaching on the stories of Jesus. Sunday, I continued by focusing on the parable of the shepherd who had one hundred sheep and loses one, or it wanders off. I used the Matthew version, because in Luke it is the first story of three. The stories in Luke include the woman and the ten coins and the “prodigal” son. The Matthew version also has a very different setting, so I wanted to spend some time on the slant and meaning that Matthew brings to the story.

So I spent intentional time studying not just about a shepherd and sheep, but about Jesus and his viewpoint on the lost, the vulnerable, on children and little ones. What has become very clear for me, is from Jesus’ point of view, it doesn’t matter if there is a hundred sheep, or ten coins or two sons, reconciliation is always the goal.

I didn’t say this in the sermon, but years ago my Old Testament Professor from Saint Paul School of Theology noted  in Psalm 23, the final verse, “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” that the word translated as “follow” was more a more active verb. The verb might be better translated as “pursue.” I can acknowledge that both of those words can seem or uncomfortable particularly if one has a history of abuse.

The point of the words though, when combined with the Matthew story is that God is not going to ignore the lost or the needy or the vulnerable or the weak. God is longs for a relationship with all of us as beloved children.

Yesterday’s worship service and sermon is my attempt to give voice to this God who looks for the lost. The service also has a great video highlighting Vacation Bible School. As I said in my sermon, I am sometimes lost and not so good about looking for those who have wandered away. I am grateful for a God who loves me and loves us all enough to come looking for us.

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Stories of Jesus, Flour and Yeast

The first Sunday of July I began a sermon series, “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus.” This sermon series has been very “fun” for me as I have wrestled with the very well known parables of Jesus.  Amy-Jill Levin’s book Short Stories by Jesus, the Engmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi, has given me a very different insight into those stories. Dr. Levine’s scholarship has broadened my biblical understanding as well as opened my imagination.

Sunday, I preached on the parable of the woman and the flour and the yeast from Matthew 13: 33. What stunned my mind and spirit was how often I have preached on this parable and not understood the amount of flour that was used. This blog post from Fr. Dominic Garramone was very helpful and I referenced it during my sermon.

The parables of Jesus are always new for me and surprising. Who knew, well I didn’t know, that the amount of flour was enough to feed a village. Jesus’ ability to challenge the status quo and to invite people into generosity and faith is truly amazing.

The worship services are posted each week through the website of First United Methodist Church.  You can watch it here.

 

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Back to blogging

It’s been a month since my last blog about the Great Plains  Annual Conference. Following conference I took a week for sermon planning and a week for vacation. Seemed fairly straight forward and well planned.

You know the saying, “the best laid plans….” It was a good two weeks, but as the week of my sermon planning time began, a neighbor and a friend died. It was unexpected in many ways, I had seen him the week before and I would never guessed I would be planning service within 10 days.

In my neighborhood, I am not the “pastor” particularly. Some of my neighbors attend church in other denominations than mine. Some of my neighbors do not. To be a “neighbor” is a wonderful thing as opposed to being whatever my “vocation” might be. Yet, it was a privilege and honor to be asked to preside at this man’s funeral. It was his request and so I sat with his daughters and we found a way to honor his life and spirit.

He had many  talents,  not the least  of which was gardening. He was meticulous in pulling weeds and keeping his flowers and his lawn beautiful. He was smart and funny. I will miss him.

During the time I was so blessed to become acquainted with his daughters, brilliant and funny and accomplished each in their own jobs and professions. I now have in my home, a few things in which to remember this wonderful and thoughtful human being. These past few weeks have reminded me again how precious life is and how each person plays a part and makes a difference in the lives of others.

As I begin my second year at First UMC, I am so grateful for those people who created this place for people all over Wichita to encounter the living spirit of God. I am blessed to continue in ministry with the gifted people in this community of faith. Life is precious and the call of Christ is to be a neighbor to every person we meet and to make a difference in lives of others. I am thankful my friend’s life and death and memory reminds me of this reality and call. I am graced to serve in this city and in this place and in this neighborhood. Life. Downtown.

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Some Reflections on the the Great Plains Annual Conference

For United Methodists, Annual Conference rolls around every year. It is “non-negotiable” if you are clergy you are required to show up. If you are a lay member, it is expected you show up, but not required. Annual Conference in the best of all worlds part revival, part business session and part family reunion. I both love it and dislike it (the loathe and hate words being too strong.)

I’m an extrovert, so having a chance to catch up with folks I only see once a year it wonderful and exciting. Mostly I enjoy the worship if done well, some of the business and the visiting. I do dislike, no I actually loathe the horrible chairs that are uncomfortable and actually are a pain in the “back” and backside!

Four years ago, three annual conferences (Nebraska, Kansas East and Kansas West) became one conference. I won’t go into the myriad of reasons, but suddenly finding venues large enough to hold that many clergy and laity became more difficult. No longer can we have chairs around tables, which makes it easier to do the work of the conference, now we are in long rows with uncomfortable chairs hooked together. We juggle our laptops or tablets or workbooks on our laps and heaven help anyone who needs to get to a microphone quickly or let alone the bathroom!

The sessions planning committee works hard in those large arenas to make the stage worshipfull and beautiful for our various services. There is nothing easy about trying to get that many people together and have all the various functions go smoothly. I miss the smaller conferences partly because of the ease of knowing most everyone and for the ability to make space more intimate. I, also, was one who voted for the one conference, because I had served a three point charge and I am well aware of the toll on the leader trying to do three of everything. That is not good use of resources, not of time, not of finances and certainly not of human beings.

This year’s conference was our new bishop, Ruben Saenz, Jr.’s first with us. I have been a pastor a long time, but had few bishops. Bishop Scott Jones was my bishop for twelve years, Bishop Fritz Mutti was my bishop for twelve years before that, Bishop Ken Hicks was my bishop for eights years before that and I begin my ministry under the leadership of Bishop Ben Oliphint. Each bishop brings their unique and unrepeatable spirit and their gifts to the area in which they serve. 

Bishop Saenz led with humor, humility, honesty and  a good deal of laughter. He noted again and again that the United Methodist Church is in a time of discernment, and honestly a time of difficulty. There is much about the future that is uncertain, but what is certain, Bishop Saenz stated again and again, is that “Jesus is the foundation and it will be alright.” 

When things got tense, or there were strong feelings running deep, Bishop Saenz’s would stop and lead us in prayer. To some that might some manipulative or shallow, but for me it never felt that way. The times of prayers felt genuine and deep. The prayers were not directed to one viewpoint or another, just that we might discern God’s path for us and to love one another.

Anyone can go to the conference website to see the pictures and videos and updates. My take away said are pretty basic, we are in changing times. Pastor’s and lay leaders need ot be discerning where God is leading using Jesus’ prayer, “not will by thine” and “let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The people of God need each other. 

Personally, I am delighted to return as senior pastor at First UMC, downtown Wichita and to begin work with my new associate Rebecca Goltry Mohr. As part of the Transition into Ministry program, I am honored that First will be a teaching/mentoring congregation and that I have the honor to be a mentoring senior pastor. 

During the opening worship service, we were given small silk flowers to remember those members of the annual conference, both lay and clergy who had died in the prior year. During holy communion we were invited to drop those flowers into a bowl in honor and rememberance. Then someone created this with those flowers:


Stunningly beautiful, during ordination we were reminded we are surround by such a great cloud of witnesses. We were commissioning and ordaining our new leaders and being blessed and reminded to continue to run the race set before us. Pastor Rebecca’s was commissioned as a provisional elder during that service.


The theme for this years conference is a good one: Know God, Proclaim Christ, Serve Others, Seek Justice. May it be so. 

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Pentecost Thoughts, Part 2

Pentecost is one of my “favorite” church holidays or feasts that really is not a holiday. There are no chocolates, or special paper dinnerware, or cards or presents or anything else that usually lets everyone know it is holiday time! Perhaps it is because it is always fifty days after Easter and the date changes. Perhaps it’s because there is no way to commercialize this church event.

“Churchy” people often call it the birthday of the Church and that is true to an extent.  It was the day the Spirit was given in a new way to those who were waiting for the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise of an Advocate, a Counselor, a Comforter, God’s very real Presence in their lives. The author of Luke/Acts describes this event in Acts 2.

Every year I want to do something fun, crazy and memorable. Some years, I get something done, this year, I didn’t. I don’t want to trivialize Pentecost and yet, for my faith journey and I believe for the life of the church Pentecost is important. This year there were no cupcakes or balloons, but there was a pair of red shoes

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I wrote a blog post in response to another blog stating why I thought the church and particularly the United Methodist Church needed Pentecost. I think that we are not perfect, but I am grateful that God has a Spirit that makes all things possible.

Debra Dean Murphy at Ekklesia Project: “In truth, Pentecost is not the complete reversal of Babel. We still can’t understand each other; we routinely miscommunicate; we gather and we gripe, betraying the unity Christ has called us to as his Body. But the good news of the Acts 2 story, the good news of all our gathering “together in one place,” is not that the Church has a mission, but that God’s mission has a Church.”

My sermon yesterday pointed to that understanding. Pentecost is not about individuals, it is about God and God’s love and grace as a community. I continue to believe that God is at work and will work and will challenge the community of faith to stand strong in the face of evil, of bigotry, of hatred. I believe we still need Pentecost, but more importantly we need the fresh wind of God’s Spirit.

You can watch yesterday’s worship service at First UMC through our Sunday streams link. It was a morning filled with joy: a baptism, a mission team commissioning and Holy Communion. Come Holy Spirit, Come Holy Spirit!

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For the Love of Jesus, Part Three Or Pentecost Thoughts

Since the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church decision in late April, this is my third reflection on for the Love of Jesus. The first one was on my determination not to leave the United Methodist Church that has nurtured me, affirmed my call to ministry, sent me to serve various church and that I love deeply. The second one reference Pentecost and the church, like jazz, learning, in conflict and compromise, to play and make beautiful music and community.

This third one, is written as I reflect upon a clergy colleague and friend’s blog about Pentecost and the United Methodist Church. The Reverend David Livingston posted these words yesterday. I read them from his facebook post on the United Methodist Clergy page. I had permission to link to David’s blog, even though I disagreed with what he said.

You can read it for yourself, and while I do not disagree that Pentecost ties to the Tower of Babel in the church’s understanding, I am not about to give up Pentecost because there are people in the church not willing to speak to one another. I would say we are following the United States culture right now. Many of the social posts are from one very slanted view or another and then the people who agree “like” the post and the ones that disagree make snarky comments. It is true that people are not listening to one another, but I don’t think that is God’s fault or the Spirit’s fault.

What I said on Facebook in response to David’s post was this,

“My friend, I respectfully disagree. I believe we need Pentecost more than ever. The disciples and early believers didn’t have all the answers. They made mistakes, fought, called names and everything else. If we read the New Testament we know that not everything was good. It was messy and ugly and nasty and graceful and everything in between. The world is messy, God is messy, the church is messy, Lord knows I am messy. I intend to stick with Pentecost, I don’t think God has given up on the church or on us or on the world. Blessings.”

Pentecost in so many ways is the birthday of the church. After Easter, the disciples and other believers were a collection of individuals trying to figure out what it now meant to follow Jesus. They didn’t have plans, they had a promise that God would come and make the Divine Presence real in a new way. The Biblical story speaks of wind and fire and “tongues” languages that were spoken so all could understand.

Whatever happened it practically defied description, yet changed lives and transformed those early believers. They didn’t have written doctrine or polity, that had a faith and a hope that God was doing something new and they lived it out. The sense of community that was given in the early church has not been replicated:

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.  (Acts 2: 43-37)

That basic verse is repeated again in Acts 4, but the point is that the early church was seeking and struggling and searching for what it meant to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth. Without going into a deep biblical treatise, the early church did not have it all together. They excluded people, they argued, they fought and they believed that their “preacher” was better than the other preachers. The conflict between Peter and Paul is well documented. Paul was far too inclusive, and the author of Acts tries to make Peter have the same inclusive understanding. According to Paul’s letters, Peter sometimes fails.

Over the hundreds of years of church history, often, the church ends up on the wrong side of that history. One the one hand, it is the church that began the early hospitals and care centers and the early colleges and universities and public education. On the other hand it is the same church, that when confronted with integration created private schools so that white children would not have to be educated alongside African American children. The church has set up hospitals that ended up hurting instead of healing. And the church has encouraged hatefulness, prejudice and inequality.

So obviously the history of the church is a mixed bag of good and bad, inclusivity and exclusivity, love and hate, sin and grace. Sometimes, it would be easy for me to just give up and give in. It would be easy to say “the church will never change. ” “The church is dying and not worth the effort.”

That is why I need Pentecost. As I said before for the love of Jesus I am not going away or giving up on the church, not on my watch. I do long for a new movement of the Holy Spirit to rush upon me and upon the Church. Jesus offered Peace, and then promised the Presence and Power of God. I am not happy at how the United Methodist Church is handling the differing understandings of sexuality and of biblical interpretation. Every person I know has their own private “canon” of scripture that they use again and again to make her or his points. No person is a true literalist.

All of us need Pentecost. We need God’s Spirit to blow a fresh wind into our hearts, our spirits, our minds and our community. I need, I believe we all need God’s love and grace challenging us to pay attention to how we act and to what say in the name of Jesus. For me, Pentecost is the time to cry out, “Come Holy Spirit! Come and refresh your people once more! Strengthen us, challenge us, comfort us and remind us that Christ is leading us into a new age of grace, of love, of hope and of faith for all people. ” I need Pentecost because sometimes I grow tired and cynical. I need Pentecost to remind me that I am not alone in working toward God’s reign of justice, of equality, of peace and of righteousness.

For the love of Jesus, who promised to be with us always in the power of the Holy Spirit, I am praying for a fresh wind of that Spirit. I am trusting that God is at work, even when I can’t see any change. I believe that God will strengthen and guide and help the church to live into that community where all people are loved, welcomed and know God’s grace.

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Memorial Day thoughts

My sister and I visit the cemeteries each year on Memorial Day Weekend. Well, not the weekend, but on Monday. We do this because everyone who decorated the graves before us are all gone. This tradition has become more deeply meaningful for both of us. We do not just visit my mother and stepfathers grave and my grandparents graves, we have begun to visit my great grandparents graves and other extended family members that no one remembers or perhaps other relatives live too far away. I wrote about this tradition two years in a blog I called Remembering.

I have seen some news articles and some social media posts about how people have forgotten the “real” meaning of Memorial day and have been saying things like “Happy Memorial Day!” I also know that while for some people the main purpose of Memorial Day is to remember the service men and women who have died in wars across our countries history, that is not the only meaning for this day. As I said in my former post, some of us were raised that this was a weekend to remember those who have gone before us. It is a time to decorate graves and tell stories and also in my family tradition, to have cookouts and family time.

I don’t think any of those things are unimportant or wrong. I took American flags to both my stepfather’s grave and my grandfather’s mausoleum. I had a wonderful party on Sunday evening. In worship on Sunday morning at First, we focused on memorial and legacy gifts and Ascension Sunday.

 I am sitting here on Monday evening, experiencing a “good” tired feeling. It has been a full three days. I have celebrated a neighbors birthday, worshipped on Sunday, had 40+ people over for a wonderful evening and then visited four different cemeteries. I also made hospital calls and been grateful for so many things. 

My sister and I have decided to remember those family members that no one else seems to remember. Mostly it is unmarried or married without children couples and babies and small children. We even placed pinwheels and flowers on the graves of some small children who were not related. 

Our great grandparents were visited 


My great grandmother held Tammy and I as infants before she died. We visited our favorite great aunt (she was awesome and fun)


Then we headed to Great Plain and visited Aunt Leola (who was not our favorite and liked to pinch us hard!) and even though there is no gravestone, we visited baby Stella, who died at two.


Then just a little ways away, we visited baby Clyde McClure. If I remember my family history, his mom ( my grandmother’s sisters) HAD to get married and this little baby did not live. His parents are buried elsewhere, but we remember him today.


Finally at the Calvary cemetery we visited Maudie. I have visited this grave since I was a little girl. At one point, there were still decorating it, but that has been a very long time. This little lamb stone speaks of the love the family had for this precious child:


The little poem at the end says “Sweet Maudie unto earth,  a little while was given. She plumed her wins for flight, and soared away to heaven.”

Finally beginning last year, we sought out a very small cemetery that my grandparents visited only once. It was part of my grandfather’s German Lutheran heritage.
 What we both remembered was one small baby grave that had only the last name Wiske , but no first name. Last year we went searching for Baby Wiske and we found the grave, but had to pull back the grass to see the name. It happened again, we had to pull back the grass. 


But while there we remember Remick’s, remembering family reunions of long ago and  decorated the grave of my grandfather’s brother and wife.


Finally we visited a marker in a Wichita cemetery remembering my mother. We had visited her grave and my stepfather’s grave in Garden Plain


She had married again late in life and had just a few short years which were a gift for both her and her husband Jerry.


Here is what I believe, we only have a short time to love nad laught and share. Whatever the number of hours or days or years, each moment matters. I know sometimes that it is uncomfortable for folks when people don’t “remember” or “memorialize” in a preferred method. I think having dinners, going to the lake, making memories is not bad or sinful or wrong. I also think mourning and remembering and honoring is not bad either. 

I find the moments I take to walk cemeteries and “recount the tales” and wonder about the stories I don’t know to be sacred and holy. I also find hosting family and friends for a party is also sacred and holy. Time is a gift and choosing to spend part of it with those we love is precious.

So tonight, I am grateful, for family, for friends, for memories and for time enough to pay attention.

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